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China’s “zero corona” policy, set out as the Lunar New Year holidays neared, has baffled Japanese workers in Beijing — most of whom have been forced to remain in the capital for more than a year.

On Jan. 27, one day before the start of the 40-day Spring Festival travel season known as the world’s biggest human migration period, the Beijing government abruptly announced stricter steps to restrict movement of people to prevent the intrusion of the novel coronavirus.

“I had planned to make a temporary return to Japan during the Lunar New Year holidays to see my family and had booked a flight, but I eventually postponed,” said a Japanese employee who works at Sony Corp.’s Beijing office.

“I haven’t met my baby, who was born last year in Japan. I hope the situation will get better as soon as possible,” he said ahead of the seven-day holidays that kicked off Thursday.

Many Japanese workers in Beijing live alone, as their family members — who evacuated from China amid the pandemic in early 2020 — have been stranded in their home nation since the Chinese government limited the entry of foreign nationals last year.

First detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, COVID-19 has infected over 100 million people and caused more than 2 million deaths across the globe, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Since late January, Beijing authorities have prohibited entry to the capital by anyone outside the city without a certificate showing a negative result from a PCR test for the virus that causes the disease, taken within seven days of their arrival.

After arriving in Beijing, travelers must monitor their health for signs of infection for 14 days. During the period, they are allowed to go out but are banned from participating in any group activity, including dining with others.

They also have to report their health condition to their workplace and residential district in accordance with requests, and must take PCR tests on the seventh and 14th day during the so-called health monitoring period.

Such measures will remain effective until March 15, the day when this year’s 10-day annual session of the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament, is expected to end.

“Once I leave Beijing, I’ll be unable to do face-to-face activities with others after return. I won’t be able to get any work done,” said a Japanese employee for the sales division at an automaker company in the capital.

“I wanted to make a trip somewhere in China during the holidays, but I gave up. As a last resort, I’ll play golf every day in Beijing,” he said. Many of golf courses in the city have been fully booked recently, even in winter.

Following overseas travel, people must be quarantined at a designated facility for 21 days upon arrival in China, in a city other than Beijing. After reaching the capital, they must undergo a seven-day health monitoring period. All direct flights between Japan and Beijing have been suspended.

Some workers in Beijing returned via another city to Japan late last year, but the quarantine period was extended, in January, while they were in their home country. The capital had previously imposed a 14-day quarantine on those entering Beijing.

“While I’ve been in Japan, the goalposts have been moved,” said a staffer for a major Japanese trading house who works in Beijing.

“If I go back to China now, I will be quarantined effectively for one month. I can’t stand it. I’m wondering if I’ll stay in Japan with my family for longer than originally planned,” he said.

Meanwhile, many Japanese in Beijing — especially those with family members in Japan — have been also concerned about the spread of the virus in their home nation.

Another Sony worker said the number of infections may increase in Japan if Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government rushes to lift the ongoing state of emergency with the aim of holding the Tokyo Summer Olympics in July.

“If the state of emergency is lifted, Japanese people might let their guard down against the virus,” he said. “I’ve heard that it’s still uncertain when Japan will be able to secure adequate vaccines. I’m very worried about my family.”

The current state of emergency for Tokyo and some other areas is currently slated to be fully lifted on March 7.

In contrast to Japan, China has already approved its home-developed coronavirus vaccines and its citizens have started receiving one of them, although fears linger about their safety and efficacy.

There is a rumor that all the people living in China, including foreign nationals, could soon be ordered to undergo inoculation with the country’s vaccines when they travel to other nations suffering with outbreaks of the virus.

“I don’t want to take a Chinese vaccine,” said a Japanese journalist in Beijing. “To avoid that consequence, I strongly hope that Japan’s central and local governments will make every effort to contain the virus.”

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